By Dawn Schuett
CANNON FALLS -- Few farmers would consider the steep and rocky landscape of Bluff Breeze Farm in Goodhue County as an ideal environment for livestock.
Upper Midwest Alpacas Fall Fiber Festival, will feature Upper Midwest Alpaca members and others who have locally produced fiber items.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7
Where: Hopkins High School, 2400 Lindburgh Drive, Minnetonka, Minn.
Contact: Rachel Boucher, (651) 485-7916, email@example.com
On the Web: www.umalpacas.com.
Discover Alpaca Evaluating -- Hands-on Fiber Analysis Clinic, presented by Wade Gease, an AOBA Certified Alpaca Judge/Trainer and Certified Fiber Sorter.
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14
Where: Hosted by Creeks Bend Alpacas, 702 W. Prairie St., Le Center, Minn.
Cost: $150 for one person, $130 for the second person.
Contact: (612) 483-1166, space is limited, call for availability.
Two types: The high-luster fiber of suri alpacas resembles pencil-like locks. Huacaya (pronounced wah-KI-ya) alpacas produce short, crimpy fiber that looks similar to wool. Alpacas are members of the camelid family native to the Andes mountain range in South America and were first imported to the United States in the 1980s.
Fiber: Alpacas, which weigh between 150 and 200 pounds at maturity and have lifespan of about 20 years, are typically sheared once a year. Their fiber, which comes in 22 natural colors, is hypo-allergenic, soft as cashmere and lighter and warmer than wool.
But the farm in the picturesque Cannon River Valley is well suited to the suri alpacas raised as breeding stock by Rick and Connie Bodeker who have been successful in the emerging industry in the United States.
The soft-padded feet of the earth-friendly animals are gentle on the terrain, Connie Bodeker said. They graze on grass without pulling up the roots and require small amounts of water.
"This is a livestock that can be raised on our hillsides without damaging the hill," Bodeker said. Along with those traits, the luxurious fiber from alpacas is an eco-conscious alternative to fur in the fashion industry."
Although alpacas are considered good companion animals, breeders like the Bodekers strive to get others to understand the value of alpacas as fiber-producing animals.
"It's a serious livestock industry, but it has all the benefits of raising an animal with personality," Bodeker said.
With a degree in animal science, Connie Bodeker wanted to pursue livestock production but did not want to raise animals for slaughter. The Bodekers already had some llamas when Rick Bodeker read about alpacas in a magazine. Seeing the potential of alpacas, the couple bought four female alpacas in 1996 and started their business, BBF Alpacas Inc.
In 1998, the Bodekers acquired a suri male imported from Peru, and "he put us on the map," Connie Bodeker said. The sire was the first in the country to produce babies with black fiber, one of the 22 natural colors for alpacas and among the rarest.
Today, the Bodekers have more than 85 suri alpacas, the less common of the two types of alpacas, with the other being the huacaya.
More than 150,000 alpacas are registered in North America through Alpaca Registry Inc. and just 10 to 15 percent are suri alpacas. There are about 100 alpaca farms in Minnesota.
Managing Bluff Breeze Farm is Connie's full-time job and it employs three others.
"Our goal is not to get bigger," she said. "It's to maintain our quality."
Mature suri females sold for breeding can go for $7,500 to $30,000 depending on pedigree, fiber quality, age and production. The Bodekers once sold a black suri female at a public auction for $98,000. A good sire can bring at least $10,000.
Alpacas at Bluff Breeze Farm south of Cannon Falls are sheared once a year. The fiber is sent to a national fiber cooperative and is used to make products such as socks, hats and stuffed animals. The Bodekers buy the products at wholesale prices and sell them at retail prices out of their home and at the Alpaca Farm Store at Fossum Family Farm Alpacas, LLC, near Northfield.
Alpaca fiber is used by clothing designers in everything from casual outerwear to haute couture. The fiber is even being blended with cotton for an eco-friendly line of denim jeans known as Paca Blues.
"The use of alpaca fleece is only inhibited by our imagination," Bodeker said.
Dawn Schuett is a Farmington freelance writer.